You know when I say hi to you and your infant child and then proceed to either move on or act slightly squeamish when your child spits up on you? That is not an indication of my desire to hold your baby.
I know that I may seem uncomfortable. I know that I may not be speaking much with your child who is sixteen years my junior. I know that you believe I am just too shy or we just don’t know each other enough, and I want to hold your child but am too afraid to ask. Or that you believe that my getting acquainted with your child is the best way to solve the awkwardness that results between a forty-something adult and a constantly-Snapchatting millennial’s interactions.
I respect your good intentions. Plenty of young adults want to hold your child. And it’s true that plenty of those young adults aren’t asking to hold your child because (a) they’re too shy or (b) think they don’t know you well enough. But after you’ve asked five times whether I want to hold your baby, and I’ve reassured you that, no, I am not just refusing your offer because I am too shy or afraid I’ll drop him or her, please do not plop your infant child in my lap.
And again, I respect your good intentions. But I don’t respect that fact that I’ve only noticed this phenomenon when you and your child interact with adolescent females.
At parties, in general social situations, and in life in general, I’ve never even seen you offer to let a young adult male hold your child. Instead, they say hi to your child (often, I might add, less awkwardly than I did), and then you move on to ask them about their science fair project, their interest in politics, or what they’re planning to do with their lives. But even when I’m wearing a “HILLARY FOR AMERICA” pin, you somehow think it’s okay to ignore my other interests and force me to entertain and talk about your child when I am clearly uncomfortable doing so.
I don’t like to generalize. I don’t like to automatically attribute your actions to gender biases. But after sixteen years of observation and awkwardness, I don’t know if there’s any other explanation.
I do not dislike children. I don’t mind the fact that you’ve brought your child along. But I do mind how you treat me, a young woman, differently in the presence of that child than how you would treat a young man.
I know you don’t intend to treat me differently based on my gender. But I also believe that if we do nothing about implicit gender biases, nothing will change. And if you aren’t one of those parents that puts their child on girls’ laps, I’m sorry you had to read this entire thing.
But I urge you, parents. When you are talking to an adolescent female, think about your actions carefully. Think about what message you are sending, intentional or not. And ask yourself: if this girl were a boy, would I be treating her any different?